Jesus: The Avatar I Never Knew -- By: Winfried Corduan

Journal: Christian Apologetics Journal
Volume: CAJ 04:2 (Fall 2005)
Article: Jesus: The Avatar I Never Knew
Author: Winfried Corduan

Jesus: The Avatar I Never Knew

Winfried Corduan

Krishna is Christ,” a Hindu priest confidently declared to my class visiting his temple. (He pronounced it so it would rhyme with “grist.”) “Krishna is Christ. He is God as human being.” With this dogmatic statement he was expressing a very common attitude: just as in Hinduism there is a belief in the incarnations of God—primarily the avatars of Vishnu—so in Christianity there is the belief in the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. When you come right down to it, it’s the same thing, isn’t it?

In this article, I would like to explore the idea of Christ as “avatar.” I am going to place the discussion into the larger circle of “incarnations” in various world religions and appraise how the incarnation of Christ fits into the specifically Hindu notion of avatar, both formally and informally. My final conclusion will be that, even if it were theoretically possible to come up with a neutral definition of “avatar,” in practice the term is far too loaded with Hindu connotations to find a place in a Christian conceptual scheme.

“Incarnations” in the World’s Religions

There is certainly nothing novel in the history of religions about the idea that a god or goddess has come to earth in material form. Ultimately, this is the theory behind many forms of idolatry, in which the deity is said to be present by means of a physical object. It is only a small step from there to the notion that the physical object mediating the presence of the god is a living human being.

Take, for example, the religion of Sikhism, the blend of Hinduism and Islam advocated by Guru Nanak in the sixteenth-century A.D. Sikhism is a religion that confesses a universal, unknowable God (sat nam, or ekankar), and it specifically repudiates the idol worship associated with Hinduism. Yet it teaches that its ten historical human leaders and the Adi Granth, its holy book (who together constitute the eleven gurus of Sikhism), are the very embodiment of God. As one website states, “The word Guru in Sikhism is composed of two terms, Gu meaning darkness and Ru meaning light. Guru is the light that dispels all darkness. Guru Nanak was, therefore, the embodiment of Divine light.”1

An example of incarnation in another religion might be the concept of “Manifestation” in Baha’i. According to Baha’i teaching, God has shown himself in past ages in nine prophets (Moses, Zoroaster, Abraham, Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, the Bab,2 and Baha’ullah). However, we should not think of these ...

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